The topic of student workers is not new in media coverage. However a series of recent stories from China has caught our attention:
In June it was reported that about 100 students from an Economic and Trading School in Jiangxi Province were sent to a electronic factory in Dongguan and that the school had “borrowed” national ID cards for students under the age of 15 years.
In September the South Metropolitan Newspaper discovered that 69 students from the First Vocational School of Jiangmen city (Guangdong) were sent to work in a multi-media factory in Shunde City (Guangdong). The students told the media that they had to work for 13 hours each day and that their work consisted in assembly work.
In October a paper in Guangdong province disclosed that since 2007, more than 60 vocational school students had been sent to factories in Dongguan in the name of a Work-Study program. As reported, these students received nearly no training throughout the three years but spent most of their time working in factories. The students were also not given the full compensation as was agreed in their internship agreements.
There could be several explanations for this phenomenon such as the ongoing labor shortage, the lack of government monitoring of school programs and the lack of relevant legal knowledge of relevant laws within factories. We may continue to see these types of stories if the root causes are not properly addressed. But what does it mean if my supply chain involves student workers?
First, student workers always raise a red flag for the possible use of child labor. But it may also pose a risk of human trafficking as per the UN definition, if the case involves the three components outlined by the UN: the Act (transport / recruit the students), the Means (deception of payment), and the Purpose (exploitation of labor).
There are some actions suppliers can take to mitigate the risks associated with using student workers. UL-RS recommends for companies to closely examine the legal requirements governing the use of internship students in the specific locations they are sourcing from. If students are being contracted, companies should try and understand why this option is being used. Is it due to a labor shortage, or are there other factors to consider? What alternatives exist to hiring students? Likewise, companies should also review any cooperation policies with vocational schools that factories may have in place. Where resources permit, companies can also raise awareness among suppliers on the topic of student workers and potential risks.